So is the third time the charm? Buena Vista came oh-so-close to officially releasing this film twice before pulling it back, much to the disappointment of fans who had been waiting for this minor classic on DVD (and who didn’t feel like paying exorbitant prices on eBay for one of the copies that leaked out each time). While this isn’t the jam-packed two-disc set many fans, including myself, were hoping for, it’s still a solid release that has plenty to offer.
Hopefully all of you know who Ed Wood was. Back in the 1950s, he wrote and directed a string of films that sucked so bad they were good—if you smoked enough pot before viewing them, I suppose. (And this was in the days before “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” when it didn’t occur to people to turn a bad movie into a cottage industry.) “Glen or Glenda,” “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” “Bride of the Monster”—these were movies made for hardly any money, and it showed. The actors were horrible, parts of the sets would fall over, and you could clearly see the strings holding up the flying saucers in “Plan 9,” but none of that mattered to Wood, who had all the drive of Orson Welles but none of the talent.
The link between the two is made clear in the film, not only in Wood’s evocation of his hero as his reason for pursuing a career in Hollywood but also during a scene in which Welles gives the down-and-out director a pep talk. No one really believes such an encounter ever happened (in fact, during the commentary, the co-screenwriters admit they made it up), but that doesn’t matter—the scene exists merely to show us how Wood convinced himself to keep going when his situation looked its bleakest, and it’s a brilliant decision. Not everything you see in a movie should be taken literally.
While “Ed Wood” doesn’t delve into every nook and cranny of Wood’s life, choosing to focus on the 1950s and ignoring his later years, when he was basically making porn films, it recreates the highlights with precision, right down to replicating the sets on which he shot his movies. The cast is superb, from Johnny Depp as Wood to Martin Landau’s Oscar-winning performance as Bela Lugosi, who Wood really did meet and become friends with, a bittersweet relationship that showed how cruel Hollywood could be to both men. The supporting cast, which includes Bill Murray’s hilarious take on Wood pal Bunny Breckinridge (the man does not get enough credit for his acting skills) and Sarah Jessica Parker as the director’s first girlfriend, Dolores Fuller, is top-notch too. While Tim Burton’s films have been all over the place in terms of quality, “Ed Wood” hits the bulls-eye.
Moving on to the supplements, I have to admit that I knocked half a star off this release simply because there should have been more here. For one thing, there’s no documentary about the main character, and that’s a shame because it would have been an excellent centerpiece on a second disc. However, we do score six deleted scenes, four featurettes (the most forgettable one from the second version of this DVD was dropped), a music video, a theatrical trailer, and an audio commentary that features Burton, Depp, Landau, co-screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, director of photography Stefan Czapsky, and costume designer Colleen Atwood.
When you come to the deleted scenes screen, you’ll notice that only five are listed. To access the sixth one, press the right arrow twice when “Que Sera Sera” is highlighted, which will select a lightning bolt. Press Enter and you’ll be treated to a very fun extension of the scene in which Wood and Lugosi come up with the Dr. Acula character. Of the remaining cut footage, two snips simply add a little comedy to the octopus theft scene while the others give us a glimpse of wrestler/actor Tor Johnson’s family, a funny “sleep-over” at Lugosi’s house, and an odd bit in which Breckinridge sings “Que Sera Sera” while a mariachi band follows him through a meat freezer. Who knows where that last one was supposed to fit into the film.
The featurettes include “Let’s Shoot This F#%@r!,” which offers14 minutes of silent onset footage book-ended by comments from Depp, “Making Bela,” which highlights Landau’s approach to the character and make-up artist Rick Baker’s burning desire to do the film, “Pie Plates Over Hollywood,” which digs into the set design, and “The Theremin,” a look at the unique instrument brilliantly used by score composer Howard Shore to evoke the feel of old 1950s sci-fi films. Of the group, the first one is mostly a waste of time, but the rest of them are as close to a making-of documentary as you’re going to get.
A fifth featurette, “When Carol Met Larry,” was a pointless look at a man who cross-dresses and his girlfriend who loves him anyway. Its only relationship to the film (“Ed Wood” is never mentioned) is the fact that Wood was a cross-dresser too. So what? Luckily, it was dropped for the final release of this DVD, which I hope managed to up the bit rate for the rest of the features on this packed disc (Buena Vista sent me the second release shortly before they announced they were pulling it, and I don’t have the final DVD to compare it to).
Finally, the commentary features the various participants recorded separately and stitched together. As a result, it’s usually not screen specific, except for the parts in which the two screenwriters, who did get together to record their part, get into the nuts and bolts of the story and try to separate fact from quasi-fact. It’s all good stuff that could have been the foundation for a nice documentary. In fact, for all I know, they did shoot interviews for a documentary, had it cancelled by the studio for budgetary reasons, and stuck everyone’s thoughts on the commentary track, trying to make them at least tangentially relate to what was happening on the screen. But overall this is a very worthwhile track for fans of the film.
If you’re one of the dedicated few who couldn’t wait for “Ed Wood” on DVD, now’s your chance to grab it. The rest of you, especially those who haven’t seen it, at least give it a rental. I promise you won’t be disappointed, no matter what you think of Burton’s career. Or Wood’s.